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In Re: Enterprise Rent-A-Car Wage & Hour Employment Practices Litigation

July 20, 2012

IN RE: ENTERPRISE RENT-A-CAR WAGE & HOUR EMPLOYMENT PRACTICES LITIGATION


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conti, District Judge.

Civil No. 07-1687 Civil No. 09-0815 Civil No. 09-0816 Civil No. 09-0824 Civil No. 09-0832 Civil No. 09-0833 Civil No. 09-1188 Civil No. 09-1321 Civil No. 10-1003 Civil No. 10-1189 Civil No. 10-1456 Civil No. 11-0071 Civil No. 11-0333 Civil No. 11-1024 Civil No. 12-0659

NICKOLAS HICKTON, et. al., Plaintiffs, v. ENTERPRISE RENT-A-CAR COMPANY, et. al., Defendants.

THIS DOCUMENT RELATES TO: Galia v. Enterprise Rent-A-Car) Company, Civil No. 09-0816

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. Introduction

This opinion concerns sample plaintiff Brandon Singleton ("Singleton"). Pending before the court are eight motions for summary judgment filed by the relevant operating subsidiaries (collectively "defendants") of defendant Enterprise Rent-a-Car Company ("ERAC") against sample plaintiffs*fn1 selected from the cases consolidated in this multidistrict litigation ("MDL"). The consolidated cases involve allegations that defendants violated the compensation requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. ("FLSA"), by failing to pay plaintiffs overtime compensation. Plaintiffs are or were assistant managers employed by one of the defendants.

This memorandum opinion addresses the motion for summary judgment filed by defendant Enterprise Leasing Company of Chicago, LLC ("ERAC-Chicago"), against Singleton. (ECF No. 241.)*fn2 ERAC-Chicago argues that Singleton qualified for the executive and combination exemptions from the compensation requirements of the FLSA. Singleton responds that summary judgment would be improper at this stage because there are genuine disputes of material facts concerning whether the "narrowly construed" FLSA exemptions are applicable. ERAC-Chicago argues that no dispute is genuine because plaintiffs submitted declarations that violated the "sham affidavit" doctrine in an attempt to fabricate disputes of fact. In response, Singleton argues that the sham affidavit doctrine is not applicable and that certain of the declarations filed in support of the motion for summary judgment were submitted in violation of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26. Each of those arguments will be addressed.

After an extensive review of the parties' submissions, the hearing transcript of the oral argument and the applicable legal principles, the court concludes that in light of the summary judgment standard of review and the narrowness of the FLSA exemptions, ERAC-Chicago failed to satisfy its burden of proving as a matter of law that Singleton was properly classified as exempt. The motion for summary judgment filed by ERAC-Chicago against sample plaintiff Singleton will be DENIED.

II. Factual Background

Brandon Singleton ("Singleton") was hired as a management trainee on or about March 28, 2005, to work at ERAC-Chicago's 1530 branch located at 74th Street and Stony Island Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. (Singleton Joint Concise Statement of Material Facts ("Singleton JCS") (ECF No. 407) ¶¶ 1-2.) On March 6, 2006, Singleton was transferred to the Midway Airport branch. (Id. ¶ 3.) On July 7, 2006, Singleton passed the management qualification interview ("MQI"), a qualifying exam known as the "grill" and was promoted to a management assistant. (Id. ¶ 4.) Singleton was promoted to an assistant manager on August 2, 2006, and was transferred to an ERAC-Chicago branch in Matteson, Illinois (the "Matteson branch"). (Id. ¶ 6.) On May 23, 2007, Singleton was transferred to another ERAC-Chicago branch on Stony Island Avenue between 92nd and East 93rd Streets (the "Stony Island" branch). (Id. ¶ 7.) Singleton voluntarily resigned from his position as an assistant manager after failing to return to ERAC-Chicago following a military leave of absence. (Id. ¶ 9.) His employment was terminated on June 1, 2009. (Id.)

Singleton's primary duties as an assistant manager included running the front counter where customers rented vehicles and managing the vehicle fleet at both branch locations.*fn3 (Id. ¶¶ 15, 20.) Singleton testified that as an assistant manager, he could not make decisions "without conferring with the higher [ups]." (Singleton Dep. (ECF No. 260) at 48.) As an assistant manager, Singleton was below the branch manager and the area manager in ERAC's employee hierarchy. (Singleton JCS Additional Facts (ECF No. 407) ¶ 25.) In his first performance review evaluation as an assistant manager, Singleton prepared a written breakdown of his responsibilities which included rough estimations of what he spent his time doing at work. (Singleton Dep. (ECF No. 260) at 43.) In that performance review, Singleton estimated that he spent:  thirty-five percent of his time on "management of customer service," which Singleton testified at his deposition he understood to mean "making sure that the customer is happy . . . [and] satisfied with the service they [sic] were provided";  twenty percent of his time on "sales and marketing," which involved "selling up"*fn4

customers at the register and finding corporate accounts (Singleton testified at his deposition that he spent "at least" that percentage of his time on sales and marketing tasks);  fifteen percent of his time on "fleet management," which Singleton believed to mean "adding [and] deleting cars";  ten percent of his time on "management of branch safety, security, maintenance and appearance," which included ensuring the security of cash boxes, deposits and other branch assets, such as the vehicles*fn5 ;  ten percent of his time on "branch accounting," meaning following up with accounts receivable*fn6 ; and  ten percent on other activities, such as employee development and motivation, and serving as the branch's corporate accounts manager ("BCAM")*fn7 . (Id. at 43-44.)

Singleton indicated that he spent none of his time on "human resources management" and testified at his deposition that he did not believe he was involved in human resources management. (Id.) Singleton testified by a predeposition affidavit that he spent the largest amount of his time completing rentals, selling related services and ensuring customer satisfaction. (Singleton Decl. (ECF No. 333, Ex. B) ¶ 8.)

While working at the Matteson and Stony Island branches, Singleton was the only assistant manager. (Singleton JCS Additional Facts (ECF No. 407) ¶ 8.) During this time Singleton was given the keys to the branch by the branch manager. Singleton, however, testified that he only had the authority to open and close the branch when the branch manager was not present. (Id. ¶ 15.) Likewise, during the transition period when there was no branch manager the management assistant was also given a key to the branch. The parties dispute the level of authority that Singleton had as an assistant manager. (Id.)

ERAC-Chicago argues that Singleton had authority to use discretion to rent cars when the minimum rental criteria was not satisfied, which management assistants and management trainees could not do. (Singleton Dep. (ECF No. 260) at 18, 26.) Singleton averred that his authority to rent cars was limited by the branch manager's oversight. (Id.at 26.) He testified that the branch manager controlled his car rentals by telling him "how he wanted a rental to look, meaning what things he would approve." (Id. at 19, 35.) The parties agree that Singleton was responsible for ensuring that correct deposits were taken on vehicles and that customers had the proper insurance coverage in place prior to renting a car. (Singleton JCS (ECF No. 407) ¶ 59; Singleton Dep. (ECF No. 260) at 41.) When renting a car, Singleton was not permitted to discount rental rates by more than a few dollars without first receiving his branch manager's authorization. (Singleton Dep. (ECF No. 260) at 15.)

The parties agree that when the branch manager was absent Singleton became "the highest ranking guy" at the branch. (Singleton Dep. (ECF No. 260) at 40; Singleton JCS (ECF No. 407) ¶ 27.) Specifically, Singleton testified that an assistant manager "can overrule" a management assistant. (Singleton Dep. (ECF No. 260) at 27.) The parties, however, dispute whether Singleton would run the Stony Island location when the branch manager was outside of the office. (Singleton JCS (ECF No. 407) ¶ 29.) Singleton testified that he did not "run the branch by himself," since he still needed to obtain the branch manager's approval to rent vehicles to customers who did not have the proper qualifications. (Id.) When the branch manager left the Matteson location in late 2006, Singleton managed the branch for a period of time no less than a few weeks while ERAC-Chicago searched for a new branch manager. (Singleton Dep. (ECF No. 260) at 9.) During this time, Singleton was responsible for daily operations of the branch, including opening and closing the branch, setting employee schedules, and managing the fleet.

(Id.) Singleton would have also been responsible for reporting any disciplinary incidents that arose; however, Singleton testified that he never had to do so. (Id.) At times when the branch had a branch manager, Singleton did not set schedules, even on days when the branch manager was not present in the branch. (Id. at 36.) According to Singleton, his schedule "largely overlapped" with that of his branch manager, who was present the majority of time that Singleton was working. (Singleton Suppl. Decl. (ECF No. 333, Ex. C) ¶ 12.)

As an assistant manager, Singleton had the authority to make notations in the "significant event" log, which recorded employees' "conduct, misconduct, [or] exceptional performance." (Singleton Dep. (ECF No. 260) at 37.) Singleton, however, described his authority to discipline as only including the ability to report an observation to his supervisors. (Singleton Decl. (ECF No. 260) at 93 ¶ 6.) The parties dispute whether Singleton ever disciplined management trainees. (See Hollins Decl. (ECF No. 263) ¶¶ 21-22; Singleton JCS (ECF No. 407) ¶¶ 50-51.) Specifically, ERAC claims that Singleton twice verbally disciplined management trainees, and that he also made entries into the "significant event" log: once because of a management trainee's inappropriate attire and unkempt hair, and the other time because a management trainee failed to make a customer callback to determine the location of a rented vehicle. (Singleton JCS (ECF No. 407) ¶¶ 50-51; Hollins Decl. (ECF No. 263) ¶ 22.) Singleton denies having had the authority to discipline employees, and averred that he only reported these two incidents of employee misconduct to the branch manager. (Singleton JCS (ECF No. 407) ¶¶ 50-51.)

At times when the branch was fully staffed, Singleton did not set schedules, even on days when the branch manager was not present in the branch. (Id. at 36.) He testified that the Branch Manager set my schedule and the schedules of the other branch employees, told us when we could leave at the end of the day, and . . . [t]o the extent that I helped the Branch Manager enforce the schedules, this simply consisted of observing who was supposed to be in the office and reporting any issues to the Branch Manager. (Singleton Suppl. Decl. (ECF No. 333, Ex. C) ¶ 3.) He did testify that he believed he would have been permitted to send an employee home without contacting his manager when "business was slow," but he did not testify that he had ever actually done so. (Singleton Dep. (ECF No. 260) at 36.)

Singleton's application with the Chicago Fire Department after he had left employment at ERAC-Chicago indicates that he made all business decisions and was directly responsible for increasing revenue as an assistant manager. (Singleton Dep. (ECF No. 260) at 46.) He testified at his deposition that he meant that he shared those responsibilities with others, but that he participated in making business decisions with the manager. (Id.) He testified that management trainees, and other employees of the branches where he worked, also assisted the branch manager in making business decisions. (Id.) While employed as an assistant manager, Singleton performed several functions aimed at controlling and bolstering the branch's profits. (Singleton JCS (ECF No. 407) ¶¶ 16-9.) He routinely increased sales by "[s]ell[ing] more coverage" to customers and "sell[ing] up rentals," which he encouraged other employees to do as well to increase branch profits. (Singleton Dep. (ECF No. 260) at 15.) He further controlled and regulated expenses of the branch by inspecting records and vehicles to ensure that vehicle damage was documented. (Id.) Singleton would also ensure his subordinates rented vehicles at the published rates, which he agreed "meant more money in [his] pocket." (Id.) Singleton also served as "branch corporate accounts manager," where he helped to foster corporate account growth within the branch, often traveling outside of the office to do so. (Singleton Dep. (ECF No. 260) at 40-1.) Singleton, however, lacked authority to enter into arrangements with corporate accounts without first speaking with the branch manager. (Id. at 41.)

Singleton's duties in controlling the fleet of cars at the ERAC-Chicago branches where he was assistant manager included ensuring proper utilization of the fleet, completing preventative maintenance on the fleet on a timely basis, expediting out-of-service units and body shop units, managing the correct mix of cars for the business of the branch, and ensuring that the units were accounted for at the end of the day. (Singleton JCS (ECF No. 407) ¶ 20.) Fleet management included determining which reservations needed to be filled and what cars were available to fill those reservations. (Singleton Suppl. Decl. (ECF No. 333, Ex. C) ¶ 5.) While employed as an assistant manager at the Stony Island location, Singleton sometimes accompanied the area manager to repossess vehicles that had not been timely returned. (Singleton JCS (ECF No. 407) ¶ 22.) The parties dispute whether management trainees and management assistants traveled outside of the office to participate in repossessions. (Id.)

The parties also dispute whether Singleton, as an assistant manager, was responsible for supervising other employees. (Id. ¶ 30.) Although Singleton admits that he did provide management assistants and management trainees with guidance and advice, he testified that he did not consider them to be his subordinates and that he was not responsible for training them. (Id.; Singleton Dep. (ECF No. 260) at 38-39.) In his predeposition affidavit, Singleton averred:

I recall that I did not directly manage the work of hourly employees. . . . Generally, hourly employees knew the tasks that they were required to perform and the process by which they were directed. Enterprise provides hourly employees with a lot of training about policies and procedures regarding routine branch operations, selling techniques and customer satisfaction. The primary goal of branch employees is to sell car rentals and related services and products and ensure customer satisfaction. Therefore, in my position as Assistant Manager, the largest amount of my time was spent completing such rentals and my time with hourly employees was often limited to reminding them of what Enterprise's policies and procedures were. (Singleton Decl. (ECF No. 333, Ex. B) ¶ 8.) Singleton believed that he gave guidance and advice by providing feedback to co-workers who had handled difficult situations, but that he did not train employees because he did not tell them to carry out their job in a specific way or according to his directions. (Singleton Dep. (ECF No. 260) at 38-39.) Singleton averred that his role as an assistant manager did not include "training and shaping [the] behaviors" of management trainees and management assistants regarding customer service issues. (Id.) According to Singleton, these responsibilities belonged to the branch manager. (Id.)

Defendant disputes Singleton's testimony that he was not responsible for training management assistants and management trainees. According to Rhonda Hollins ("Hollins"), Singleton's branch manager at the Stony Island location, Singleton was involved in training employees in sales, marketing and company policies and procedures. (Hollins Decl. (ECF No. 263) ¶¶ 18-19.) Although he testified that he was not responsible for management assistants and management trainees, Singleton acknowledged that that he often delegated his work to management assistants and management trainees, including pursuing new business leads, maintaining the fleet, and making "callbacks," or courtesy calls to customers with outstanding rentals. (Singleton Dep. (ECF No. 260) at 16.) Hollins testified that Singleton also trained management assistants and management trainees on "how to sell insurance coverage to customers," "how to present the customers with the options available with their rental," and how to use "any new process or procedure implemented by the Group." (Hollins Decl. (ECF No. 263) ¶ 19.) Singleton and Hollins attended training classes on how to use a new "2.0 services system" so that they could teach other employees how to use it. (Id.)

Singleton participated in new hire interviews for management trainees and car preps, and he contributed to employee performance reviews, although he lacked the authority to hire any branch employees. (Singleton Dep. (ECF No. 260) at 27-28; Singleton JCS (ECF No. 407) ¶ 38.) The parties dispute the weight and deference Singleton's reviews were provided. (Singleton JCS (ECF No. 407) ¶ 39.) Singleton testified that he never evaluated any employees on his own and that he never went over a review with any individual employee, but he wrote comments on employee performance evaluation forms. (Id.; Singleton Dep. (ECF No. 260) at 27, 33-4.) At the Stony Island branch, Singleton met with car preps during interviews and he escorted management trainees around the branch during their branch visits. (Singleton JCS (ECF No. 407) ¶ 40.) Hollins, Singleton's branch manager at the Stony Island location, and George Whiting, who was a management trainee under Singleton, testified that Singleton conducted employee reviews and evaluations. (Hollins Decl. (ECF No. 263) ¶ 14; Singleton JCS (ECF No. 407) ¶ 39.) Hollins testified that Singleton would provide input to her about applicant interviews to aid her in making hiring decisions, stating that the "Assistant Branch Manager in general and Brandon [Singleton] in particular played an important role in the process . . . when deciding whether or not a candidate should be hired." (Hollins Decl. (ECF No. 263) ¶ 12.)

While working as a management trainee, and later as a management assistant, Singleton was paid an hourly wage. (Id. ¶ 5.) Singleton testified that he became an assistant manager to "make more money," believing that "the commission check was a way to get paid off the profit of the branch." (Singleton Dep. (ECF No. 260) at 14-5.) As an assistant manager, Singleton was paid a base salary plus a 2.10% commission on the profits earned at the branch where he was employed. (Singleton JCS) (ECF No. 407) ¶ 10.) Singleton's starting salary in 2006 (and through the beginning of 2007) was $27,900 per year. (Id. ¶ 11.) His salary increased to $28,900 per year in April 2007, and to $30,399.98 in February 2008. (Id.) In 2006, Singleton earned approximately $3,158 in commissions. (Id.) He earned approximately $10,108 in commissions in 2007, and in 2008 he earned approximately $1,202 in commissions. (Id.) In 2007, the one full year that Singleton was an assistant manager, his total compensation was approximately $39,306. (Id.) During the twenty-two months that Singleton worked as an assistant manager, his average annual commission was $7,892. The average yearly value of his three salaries, plus his average annual compensation, amounts to $36,958.66.

As an assistant manager, Singleton worked a minimum of fifty hours, a maximum of sixty-five hours, and an average of sixty hours per week. (Singleton Dep. (ECF No. 260) at 7.) Singleton's de facto, average hourly wage --assuming he worked sixty hours per week and fifty weeks a year, and not accounting for overtime pay that he contests he was entitled to receive- was $12.32 for each hour he worked.

During the time that Singleton was employed as an assistant manager, management assistants were paid an annual base salary ranging from $23,277.54 (in 2006) to $25,438.40 (in 2008), and could earn up to $34,000 if they worked ten hours of overtime each week. (Singleton JCS (ECF No. 407) ¶ 12.) Assuming a fifty-work-week year, a management assistant who worked forty hours in a week earned up to $12.72 for each hour worked and a management assistant who worked fifty hours in a week earned up to $13.60 for each hour worked. During this same period, management trainees were paid an annual base salary ranging from $21,819.20 (in 2006) to $23,940.80 (in 2008), and could earn between $30,000 and $32,000 if they worked ten hours of overtime each week. (Id.) Assuming a fifty-work-week year, a management trainee who worked forty hours in a week earned between $10.95 and $11.97 per hour, and a management assistant who worked fifty hours in a week earned between $12.00 and $12.80 for each hour worked.

III. Summary Judgment Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides in relevant part:

(a) Motion for Summary Judgment or Partial Summary Judgment. A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense -- or the part of each claim or defense -- on which summary judgment is sought. The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The court should state on the record the reasons for granting or denying the motion. .

(c) Procedures.

(1) Supporting Factual Positions. A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by:

(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or

(B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.

FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a), (c)(1)(A), (B).

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial."

Marten v. Godwin, 499 F.3d 290, 295 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)).

An issue of material fact is in genuine dispute if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see Doe v. Abington Friends Sch., 480 F.3d 252, 256 (3d Cir. 2007) ("A genuine issue is present when a reasonable trier of fact, viewing all of the record evidence, could rationally find in favor of the non-moving party in light of his burden of proof." (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248)).

"[W]hen the movingparty has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show thatthere is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts . . . . Where the record taken as a wholecould not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue fortrial."

Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986)). The court must rely on the substantive law to identify which facts are material. Abington ...


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